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Garden Harvest Given to At-Risk Children

The cafeteria at Centers for Youth and Families overflows with organically grown tomatoes, peppers and more, and the staff barely has room for the harvest donation from Moss Mountain Farm. In the coming weeks, they’ll see even more produce arrive to provide nutritious meals for children in treatment and summer programs at Centers.

IMG_5208Moss Mountain Farm, owned by P. Allen Smith, has been fortunate enough to share its bounty with neighboring outreach programs. These hundreds of pounds of summer vegetables have been given to nonprofits in Little Rock and Conway. The Centers for Youth and Families was one location chosen to receive a donation because of a shared project to install a therapy garden on the campus. Centers for Youth and Families provides treatment for family issues and emotionally disturbed or at-risk youth in a residential setting, and studies have shown therapeutic gardening, sometimes called horticulture therapy, provides relief for stress and mental and developmental disabilities.

“On behalf of The Centers Foundation, it’s always an honor to receive donations from corporate and community partners like this, that will go on to benefit our children and youth. What makes this donation even more special is that it’s also symbolic of Centers for Youth & Families roots,” said Doug Stadter, president and CEO of Centers.  In 1884, Elizabeth Mitchell couldn’t bear the thought of children in need and began to taken them into her home. She quickly inspired others to do the same. Her actions led to the formation of the organization now known as Centers for Youth & Families. “More than 130 Years later, this is a great reminder of the importance of helping children and youth who need it the most,” Stadter added.

IMG_5200Centers believes the garden project would greatly benefit its patients, and while planning for that project continues, the Acre Garden at Moss Mountain Farm overflowed with a summer harvest of Bonnie Plants and those grown from Sakata Seeds. The farm produced crates and crates of Juliet, Yellow Jubilee and Sungold tomatoes as well as Banana and Yes to Yellow peppers, among others. The cafeteria at Centers proved to be the ideal landing spot for the farm’s harvest. And this donation will have the dual purpose of prepping the staff at Centers for an influx of fresh produce from its on-site gardens once the project is completed.  Smith and his farm plan to continue weekly donations as long as the harvest allows.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation, children in our residential treatment program, emergency shelter and summer program are enjoying farm fresh, organic produce this summer,” said Stadter. “Providing a nutritious diet and teaching our kids the importance and fun of healthy eating is an essential part of our work at Centers for Youth & Families. We’re grateful to P. Allen Smith and the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation for being such a great partner in our efforts to build happier and healthier children, families, and communities across Arkansas.”

In addition to Centers, Moss Mountain Farm’s Acre Garden also supplied 125 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peppers and okra to St. Peters Food Pantry in Conway.

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What’s the Fig Idea? Find out in the summer e-mag

The summer issue of our Naturally magazine is full of recipes, architecture, DIYs and more. Be inspired to party with sweet figgy bourbon cocktails, spicy green beans and sunny, heat-hardy flowers that will brighten up your home all summer.

In this issue, learn how easy it is to grow and harvest your own baby broccoli, get a peek into an historic piece of architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and learn how to make the most of your water feature. Click below to start reading!

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Cabbage Patch Kid: How a plant inspired one girl to feed needy families

Many years ago, the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program — where third-grade students are given a cabbage plant to tend either at home or at school – inspired one young student in South Carolina to create an organization to feed those in need.

Katie's-Crops-1Katie Stagliano was given a plant in third grade. It grew to be almost 40 lbs! Her cabbage was too big for one family. So, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it fed more than 275 people. Amazed by how many people her cabbage fed, Katie started a vegetable garden specifically to donate to hungry people in her community. Her initiative continued to grow and expand, and  in 2012, at the age of 14, Katie became the youngest person to receive the Clinton Global Citizen Award.  She met Matt Damon at the awards ceremony!

Katie's-Crops-2Today, she’s the founder and chief executive gardener at Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit organization that continues to grow food to feed the needy. Offering grants to students and schools, her organization has expanded into 51 gardens run by kids in 21 states. Those gardens produce thousands of pounds of healthy produce for families. We are so inspired by what Katie is doing, and to think it all started with a small cabbage plant donation.

The Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program is open schools across America. This program aims to connect children to their food and nature. Sometimes the cabbages grow up to 50 lbs! Principals and teachers can register here.  Plants will be delivered at the optimal time for your growing zone. Once the cabbages are grown, classrooms can submit entries for a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship. See previous winners here. Warning: They’re adorable.

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1-2-3 Done!™ Lavender Vinegar

Lavender
I recommend planting lavender in abundance because it has so many
uses, including as an infused vinegar that works as a facial toner,
hair rinse and all-purpose cleaner for your home. Harvest this
perennial just before it fully opens.

Lavender vinegar can be used as a fragrant fabric softener, a bath
fragrance, glass cleaner or, when diluted in water (8 parts water
to 1 part vinegar), as a facial toner, hair rinse or deodorizing
body splash. This easy recipe only has three ingredients and three
simple steps.

Materials

  • Enough lavender leaves and flowers to fill a 1-quart jar half full
  • White vinegar
  • Sterile, glass 1-quart jar with a plastic screw-on lid

Directions

  1. Place the lavender in the jar and fill with vinegar.
  2. Screw on the lid. Vinegar will react with metal so use a plastic lid. If your lid is metal, cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap before screwing on the lid.
  3. Place the jar in a dark place for 4 weeks, shaking occasionally
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Lavender Fire Starting Bundles

This is a project that adheres to the philosophy of waste not, want not. After pruning your lavender plant, why not put the stems to good use? These dried lavender bundles help get winter fires started and sweeten the air.

Materials

  • Dried Lavender Stems
  • Raffia
  • Gift wrapping tissue cut into strips
  • Paper clip

Instructions

  1. Gather lavender stems in a bundle.
  2. Wrap a tissue strip around the middle of the bundle. Use a paper clip to temporarily hold the strip in place.
  3. Wind raffia around the tissue strip and tie to secure. Remove the paper clip.
  4. When you are ready to start a fire, place the lavender bundle between the logs in your fireplace. Fire can be a fickle mistress, so be sure to use caution and common sense when lighting the lavender bundle.

Good to Know: Pruning Lavender

Lavender benefits from a light pruning every year to keep the plants full and bushy, which means more leaves and blooms to harvest. You can cut the plant back in spring, summer or very early fall. I generally do this task right after the flowers fade because it will help promote new bloom. If you cut your plant back in fall, be sure to give yourself time before the first hard freeze. Cold temperatures will kill resulting new growth. Remove about a third of the height of the plant. Avoid pruning back into woody stems where there aren’t any leaves growing because the stem won’t survive.

Lavender Fire Starting Bundles

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Selecting the Right Tomato for You

Have you ever found yourself at the garden center staring at rack upon rack of tomato plants all begging you to take them home? With so many choices it’s hard to know which variety is best for your garden. Well, I have three questions to ask yourself that will make picking out a tomato easier.

What size is your garden?

Limited Space or Raised Beds

If you grow vegetables in raised beds or a limited space, choose a variety that stays fairly small. Look for determinate, bush and dwarf varieties. Although these plants stay more compact than some of the indeterminate varieties plan on staking them to give them the support they need and make room for more vegetables.

  • Better Bush (Determinate) – This plant produces medium-sized tomatoes on sturdy stems. It’s also a good choice for growing in a container. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Matures in 68 days.
  • Husky Cherry Red (Indeterminate) – This is a dwarf, indeterminate variety that will produce sweet, cherry-type tomatoes in continuous waves all summer. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.

Large Area

If you have plenty of space then you can grow any tomato variety, but you are in the unique position to select those that need room to sprawl and sturdy support. Many of these tomatoes are indeterminate and will give you tomatoes to harvest all summer.

  • Mr. Stripey (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – How about a beefsteak tomato that can weigh as much as 24 ounces? In addition to the hefty size, the fruits are an attractive yellow to orange with irregular red stripes. The high sugar content makes Mr. Stripey tomatoes extra tasty. Grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 80 days.
  • Sungold (Indeterminate) – These cherry tomatoes are so sweet you will find yourself eating them right off the plant. Sungold produces through summer and into fall. Grows 4 to 5 feet tall or larger. Matures in 55 to 65 days.

Containers

You can grow tomatoes even if you only have room for one container. For the best results select a container that is at least 20 inches in diameter and a tomato variety that stays compact.

  • Bush Goliath (Determinate) – This variety produces large 3 to 4 inch tomatoes on compact, robust, 3 foot tall plants. Fruits are sweet and perfect for serving sliced with a dash of salt and pepper. Give this plant support with a tomato cage or stake. Grows 3 feet. Matures in 68 days.
  • Sweet n’ Neat Cherry (Determinate) – Diminutive plants that will produce clusters of tomatoes in the smallest of spaces. Plant in a 10-inch pot and enjoy homegrown cherry tomatoes. Grows only 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Matures in 48 days.

Choosing a Tomato Variety

What is the climate like in your area?

Mild Summer Weather and/or Short Growing Season

Most tomatoes need warm temperatures to set fruit and time to ripen. If your garden is in a region where summers are cool and/or the growing season is short, select varieties with an early ripening season that are known to set fruit in cool weather.

  • Black Prince (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This tomato hails from Siberia so you know it will do well in a cool climate. Dark fruits have a rich flavor. Grows 6 to 9 feet tall. Matures in 70 days.
  • Early Girl (Indeterminate) – Harvest vine ripened tomatoes in only 50 days. Fruits are a good size for multiple uses including that summer classic the tomato sandwich. Grows 6 to 8 feet. Matures in 50 days.

Hot Summer

Tomatoes like warm weather, but they don’t like it too hot. When the day time temperatures stay consistently above 95 degrees F many tomatoes will stop setting fruit until the heat breaks. Gardeners in hot summer regions can get around this by planting heat tolerant varieties.

  • Heatmaster (Determinate) – Both heat tolerant and disease resistant, this tomato is perfect for the hot, humid garden. Firm, medium-sized fruits are good for eating fresh from the garden. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Matures in 55 to 75 days.
  • Solar Fire (Determinate) – This is a tomato that was bred to take the heat. Plant it in spring for a summer harvest and, if you live where the growing season is long, again in midsummer for a fall harvest. Grows 4 to 5 feet. Matures in 72 days.

Tomato Arkansas Traveler

How do you like your tomatoes?

I don’t know about you, but I can eat tomatoes prepared in any number of ways. Fortunately there is a tomato for every recipe.

Sliced

  • Mortgage Lifter (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – Huge beefsteak tomatoes with a mellow taste. A slice of Mortgage Lifter makes for the perfect BLT sandwich. Grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Matures in 70 to 90 days.
  • Arkansas Traveler (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – This plant will keep on producing fruit through heat and drought. Crack-resistant tomatoes are mild in flavor. Grows 6 to 8 feet tall. Matures in 75 days.

Salads and Salsas

  • Super Sweet 100 (Indeterminate) – Bite-sized, sweet tomatoes are ready for picking 65 days after planting. This tomato will continue to produce until the first fall frost. Great for gardeners with space and those who live where summers are cool. Grows 8 to 12 feet tall. Matures in 65 days.
  • Celebrity (Semi-determinate) – This plant stays 3 to 4 feet tall and produces fruit right up to the first frost. A large, all-purpose tomato with good flavor and a meaty texture. Matures in 65 to 70 days.

Sauces, Soups and Canning

  • Bradley (Heirloom, Indeterminate) – If you’ve ever been to the Bradley County Tomato Festival you know this plant produces some delicious fruits. Pink in color and mild in flavor. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 75 to 85 days.
  • Roma (Determinate) – This is the classic tomato for paste, sauces and cooking. The fruits are meaty and flavorful with less juice and fewer seeds than other varieties. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Matures in 73 to 80 days.

Tomato Terms

Determinate – Tomatoes are produced on the end of stems and ripen at roughly the same time. The plants tend to stay more compact.

Indeterminate – Tomatoes are produced all along the stems. These types of tomatoes will continue to grow and produce fruit until the first fall frost.

Heirloom – A variety of tomato that has been passed down from one generation to the next or open-pollinated varieties that were introduced more than 50 years ago. Seeds from an heirloom tomato will produce the same tomato.

Hybrid – A variety of tomato that is the result of a cross between to other varieties. Hybrids are developed for certain qualities such as disease resistance. Seeds from a hybrid tomato will not reproduce that same tomato.

Tomato Sungold

Good to Know

Still not sure which tomato is right for you? Check out the Bonnie Plants Tomato Chooser on BonniePlants.com.

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Growing Tomatoes

TomatoesIt may be hard to believe, but Americans once shunned this now classic fruit because it was thought to be poisonous.

The tomato is native to South America where they have been around since prehistoric times. Spanish explorers brought the plant from Mexico to southern Europe in the mid 1500s and from there it spread north and east.

Early Americans first grew the tomato as a curiosity, but thought that eating the fruit would be deadly because of its resemblance to nightshade. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that it became widely known that they were safe to eat, and since then it has become a one of our most popular fruits in the United States.

There are two broad categories of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminate. Now determinate just means the size of the plant grows to a determined height depending on the variety, say in the 2 to 4 foot range. Because of their compact habit they are perfect for growing in containers. Once they grow to a certain height, they flower and set all their fruit within a short period of time.

On the other hand indeterminate types of tomatoes don’t grow to just a limited size, they keep growing and growing, often 8 feet or more. As you can imagine these require more room to grow and they need to be staked. The plus side of growing indeterminate type tomatoes is that they produce fruit throughout the entire season. You can also find dwarf indeterminate varieties that produce the same amount of fruit, but as the name implies, are smaller in stature.

The best time to plant tomatoes seedlings is a few weeks after the last frost date in your area, when the soil has had a chance to warm up and night temperatures stay above 50 degrees F. In my zone 7 garden, located in the upper South, I plant tomatoes in May.

If you are going to grow your tomatoes from seed, start them indoors 5 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost.

When you purchase tomato plants from a nursery select those that are about 10 to 12 inches tall with a deep green color. You should avoid any that have blooms, holey leaves or crowded root systems.

Tomatoes need full sun to really thrive. Site them in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. To steer clear of problems with disease choose a new location in your garden each year.

The soil should be medium-rich, loose and well drained with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

How far apart you space the plants depends on the type of tomato you’ve selected. Dwarf varieties should be spaced about 12 inches apart in a row. If you plan on staking your plants, space them about 24 inches apart. Set sprawling, indeterminate tomatoes about 36 to 48 inches apart.

Plant your seedlings about 1 inch deeper than they are sitting in the nursery container. This will help strengthen the root system and a better root system means healthier plants. Just be sure to remove any leaves below the soil line.

To discourage cutworms from taking out your young transplants, you should wrap the base of each seedling with a piece of aluminum foil. You can also protect them with a cardboard collar placed over the seedling and pushed 1 inch into the ground. A paper towel roll cut into sections works pretty well.

Building a Twig Teepee
Twine and Twig Teepee
Building a Twig TeePee
Secure the Top
with Wire
Building a Twig TeePee
Wrap Twine
Around the Legs

It is important to support your tomatoes as they grow. A simple wooden stake or bamboo pole will work. Use twine or some other soft material to tie the vine to the support. Tomato cages are also useful, especially for determinate and dwarf varieties. For the larger indeterminate types I find that commercial cages are a bit on the flimsy side, so I make my own out of concrete reinforcing wire. A 5 foot wide piece will usually do the trick. Simply bend it into a circle and hook the tines together where the ends meet. You want it to be about 16 inches in diameter. As a final measure I clip nylon netting to the cages to keep pests at bay.

Once you have planted your tomatoes keep them well watered until the roots are established. After that, deep soak them every 4 to 7 days. If it is hot and dry you may need to water every day, especially if they are in containers.

When you water, take care to not splash soil onto the leaves and stem as this promotes disease. And don’t skimp on the mulch. A good layer of mulch, 2 to 3 inches, will help keep the soil consistently moist, cutting down on blossom end rot, as well as prevent weeds from taking over. Just keep the mulch away from the crown of the plant.

Feed your tomatoes once a month with a blend that is high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will result in lots of leaves, but not much fruit. A ratio of 5-10-5 is good. Start fertilizing when the fruits first start to develop and stop as they reach maturity.

By following these simple guidelines you can make this the best tomato season ever.

Good To Know

Tomatoes will drop their blossoms when night time temperatures drop below 55 degrees F or exceed 75 degrees F.

If you live in an area with a short growing season choose an early maturing variety that will produce fruit in 50 to 65 days. Early Girl, Jetsetter, and Vita Gold are just a few varieties to try.

To avoid sunscald, do not remove leaves that are shading fruits.

Blossom end rot appears as a pale, brown spot that turns black and flattens the bottom of the fruit. It can be caused by lack of calcium or inconsistent moisture.

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A Tomato for Every Recipe

If you plant three types of tomatoes – cherry, paste, and
slicing – you’ll have the right type of tomato on hand for
salads, sandwiches, sauces and canning. All you need are 3 large pots, potting soil, stakes, twine, fertilizer and the tomatoes.

Materials for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

  • (3) 20-inch Containers with Saucers
  • Potting Soil
  • (9) Bamboo Stakes
  • Twine
  • (3) Different Types of Determinate* Tomatoes

Steps for Growing Tomatoes in Containers

  1. Place empty containers in a spot that receives a full day of direct sun and in easy reach of a source of water.
  2. Fill containers with potting soil leaving 1 inch of head room. This space will make it easier to water.
  3. Plant 1 tomato plant per pot. Plant deep; bury 80 percent of the tomato for the best root development.
  4. Insert 3 bamboo stakes in each pot so they surround the tomato. Tie the tops together with twine. Wind the twine around the stakes to create a teepee trellis.
  5. Water the plants well.

Determinate Tomato Varieties

Determinate Cherry Tomato Varieties

  • Husky Cherry Red (Dwarf Indeterminate)
  • Patio FASt (Resistant to fusarium wilt (F), alternaria stem canker (A), and gray leaf spot (St).)
  • Baxter’s Early Bush
  • Cherry Grande

Determinate Paste Tomato Varieties

  • Rome Patio
  • Roma

Determinate Slicing Tomato Varieties

  • Better Bush
  • Bush Goliath
  • Bush Early Girl
  • Celebrity
  • Marglobe Improved

* Determinate tomatoes stay compact and produce an abundance of
fruit for a determined period of time. They are great for containers
because they don’t grow as tall as indeterminate tomatoes.

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Rotating Out Tomato Crops

What can I do to revitalize my tomato garden? My space is limited so I have to use the same area for several years.

The problem with growing tomatoes or even members of the same family such as potatoes, peppers and eggplant in the same spot year after year is that the soil wears out while diseases and pests move in. This is why farmers will rotate their crops or leave fields fallow. It gives the soil a chance to rejuvenate.

It is recommended that tomatoes be planted one year and then rotated out for the next two years. I suggest you follow this advice and plant tomatoes in containers for the two year waiting period. They won’t take up much space and you may even find they are easier to maintain. Plus it gives you a chance to try some other vegetables in your garden.

Use a container that is about 20 inches in diameter with several drainage holes. It’s a good idea to layer the bottom of the container with gravel to improve drainage and give the pot some weight. All those juicy tomatoes can make the plant top heavy and it would be heart breaking to find the container blown over after a storm. Also be sure to provide sturdy staking to keep the plant upright.

Choose a bagged mix rather than garden soil. It will be disease and weed free and blended to provide a soil environment where tomatoes can thrive.

Once you get the tomatoes planted, you care for them just as you would if they were growing them in the ground. You may find that you have to water more often, but I figure this extra work is worth it.

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How to Harvest and Cure Sweet Potatoes

What are the next steps after digging sweet potatoes? How do I cure the spuds I have just dug? Due to a wetter-than-usual summer, the tubers are unusually large. I would like to ensure that I don’t lose them to decay.

I’ve just finished harvesting sweet potatoes in my own garden. Like you, this year’s harvest has yielded some of the biggest sweet potatoes ever.

Sweet potato varieties are ready to harvest 95 to 120 days after planting in the garden. When the leaves turn slightly yellow they are usually ready to harvest. Because they have thin skins sweet potatoes are easily damaged during harvest so extra care should be taken. Some people even go so far as to wear cotton gloves when harvesting as to not harm the potatoes. Cutting the vines 2 or 3 days before you plan to dig will toughen up the skins.

After harvest, the sweet potatoes should be cured. This involves placing the potatoes in a warm (85 degrees) humid (90 percent) environment for about 4 to 6 days to increase sugar content, heal nicks and bruises incurred during harvest, and increase flesh color.

Once cured, store your sweet potatoes in dry boxes or bins in a room that’s humid and 55 to 60 degrees F. The ideal place to store sweet potatoes is in a root cellar or cool pantry. Do not store them in the refrigerator because low temperatures will cause the sugars to turn to starch.
They can be stored for 6 to 10 months under good conditions.